Iraq Seeing Resurgence of Violence

Today, our guest blogger, Chris Chapman, returns with a new post on Iraq’s continued troubles…

Syria and Egypt garner the most press when it comes to current coverage of the Middle East. Yet, a rising tide of violence in Iraq should not be ignored.  Iraq, the country the United States spent eight years and countless dollars engaged within, is teetering on the edge of intense conflict.   Recent waves of sectarian attacks are reminding analysts of the mood in Iraq during 2006-2007 when the country nearly fell into civil war

An increase in car bombings, suicide attacks, and jailbreaks have marked a resurgence of Al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq.  But the violence is not solely being directed by Sunnis against Shiite Muslims.  Within October alone, Iraq has seen multiple attacks on Sunni and Shiite targets.  On October 15 in Kirkuk, a bomb exploded in a crowd of Sunni worshippers coming out of a mosque to celebrate Eid al-Adha and killed 12 people.  On October 13, a string of bombings across the country, many in Shiite areas, killed up to 42 civilians at commercial areas, public spaces, and a funeral. On October 12 a car bomb exploded in Samarra killing 17 people.  These are not battles such as in Syria, these are women and children being killed going about their daily lives.  Reports show that since an April crackdown by the Iraqi government on a Sunni protest camp in Hawija, over 5,000 people have died in sectarian violence.  Al-Qaeda in Iraq is creating an environment of fear and doubt.  Fear of public safety and doubt that the Shiite led government can keep the country stable are on the rise

The brazen attacks in popular community sites exemplify Al-Qaeda’s mission to destabilize the state.  And in doing so, it is pulling Iraq further away from democracy.  The al-Maliki government’s crackdown on terrorism led to a renewed emphasis on a strong internal security apparatus and consolidation of power within the government.  People found guilty of terrorism are subject to the death penalty.  In fact, last week 42 people were executed on charges of terrorism and 68 people received the death penalty in 2011.

The danger of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is real.  Already ISIS is entrenched in Syria fighting.  Reports show they are killing and kidnapping civilians.  If Iraq falls into a civil war alongside Syria expect reports of this type to be more common.  One reason for the invasion of Iraq was to foster stability in the region, but this recent evidence only points out the failings of that endeavor. 

Chris Chapman is currently a Research Intern at the NESA Center and an M.A. candidate at American University’s School of International Service

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

As Washington decides whether to intervene more assertively in Syria, the civil war there has once again spilled across the country’s borders. Last week, armed groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army clashed with an Iraqi army convoy that was defending Syrian government troops near the Rabia-Yaarabiya border crossing. The result was 62 Syrian and nine Iraqi soldiers killed or wounded along with six members of the FSA.

In response to these events, the Iraqi government announced the formation of a new Iraqi Army unit in the city of Sinjar located along the areas disputed by Arabs and Kurds in Nineveh province bordering Syria. The Iraqi government justified this deployment due to fears of further infiltration of Iraq’s borders by Syrian opposition forces allied with Jabhat Al-Nusra. These developments further escalated tensions between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish Regional Government in the disputed territories that have been simmering since November when confrontations near Kirkuk resulted in the deaths of 11 people. These events show how the crisis in Syria is simultaneous serving to further destabilize the situation in Iraq.

Somehow amidst these developments, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki found time to host Egyptian Prime Minister Kandil and discuss economic and energy issues, despite the Muslim Brotherhood led government’s support of the rebels in Syria. Further complicating the situation are upcoming Iraqi provincial elections on April 20th, along with continued protests in Iraq’s predominantly Sunni areas against the authoritarian nature of the Iraqi central government.

So what are we to conclude from all of these simultaneous events? 1) Iraq feels incredibly vulnerable to the effects of a destabilized Syria – so much so, that it is reluctantly being pushed further into the Iranian orbit. Washington should capitalize on this insecurity and help its “strategic partner” reintegrate with the GCC and the Sunni Arab world instead. Iraq’s recent hosting of the Arab League Summit and its high level talks with Egypt make for good starting points. 2) Any decision Washington makes regarding the level of support it decides to provide the Syrian rebels should take into account conclusion number one above. 3) Finally, Iraq is not immune to the Arab Awakening. Maliki’s heavy handed moves to quell the Sunni protests and consolidate power at the expense of the country’s independent institutions have not gone unnoticed. Iraq is dangerously close to no longer choosing to “solve” its problems through the political process instead of through violence as the U.S. has touted since the withdrawal of its military forces.

The Obama administration’s rush to declare Iraq a success and shift to other policy priorities in the Middle East such as Syria and Egypt ignores the fact that all three are interrelated. Washington is wise to resist military escalation in the region, but this is no excuse to bury its head in the sand and ignore how the internal politics in one country can spillover into the wider region.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

Zero Dark Accountability

The Oscar nominated movie Zero Dark Thirty, a fictional account of the events leading up to the targeted killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, has generated a lot of debate about the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques.  The controversy stems from whether the film’s opening scene depicting the interrogation of an Al Qaeda detainee at a CIA “black site” suggests that coercive techniques yielded information that led to discovery of Bin Laden’s whereabouts. 

Opinions have varied widely on the question of whether enhanced interrogations have produced useful intelligence.  Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein recently described the CIA’s use of coercive interrogation techniques at secret prisons as “terrible mistakes, while former CIA Director Michael Hayden has publicly defended the agency’s use of waterboarding and other techniques claiming that they produced valuable intelligence in the hunt for Bin Laden.

While senior officials and commentators disagree over the effectiveness of coercive interrogation techniques, they are almost uniform in their belief that the CIA’s use of these techniques was completely separate from the more cruel, humiliating, and sadistic behavior, also portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty, that occurred at U.S. military detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.  Supporters and critics alike have acknowledged that CIA approved techniques differed widely from those that were used by U.S. military personnel in those facilities, such as extreme instances of forced nudity and humiliating detainees by walking them around in dog collars.

But a closer look at how interrogation policy was crafted shortly after 9/11 shows a remarkable similarity between the evolution of the military’s program and what is known about how the CIA’s interrogation policy developed. According to a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report, CIA General Counsel John Rizzo and Chief Counsel to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jonathon Fredman, both visited DOD personnel at Guantanamo Bay in the fall of 2002 to discuss “legal authorities applicable to interrogations (p. 53-4).” While commenting on the techniques the military proposed for use at Guantanamo, Fredman stated that the CIA decided internally on the approval of most of the techniques and relied on approval from the DOJ for the harshest of the techniques they were proposing (SASC Report p. 56).  Essentially the CIA was telling the DOD how far it could go in the conduct of coercive interrogations according to its own interpretation of current law. Chillingly, Friedman was reported to have said that “It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong (SASC Report p. XVII).”

The eventual spread of coercive interrogation techniques from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan to Abu Ghraib has been well documented, most thoroughly by Seymour Hersh in his 2004 book Chain of Command.  The fact that the military consulted the CIA along the way is less well known. Quoting from the report of MG Antonio Taguba that investigated the abuses at Abu Ghraib Hersh writes, “Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors ‘actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogations’ (Chain of Command p.29).” This is not to suggest that the CIA is responsible for what happened at Abu Ghraib, but rather to caution against accounts suggesting that the CIA detention program had absolutely no bearing on what took place there.

The way the U.S. is perceived internationally for its treatment of detainees strongly impacts its national security. Whether the torture scenes in Zero Dark Thirty are accurate or not, the CIA should not be able to continue to use Abu Ghraib as a shield against the scrutiny it rightly deserves.

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.